Couple married 65 years die just hours apart

POUGHKEEPSIE, N.Y. --  She called him Freddy. He called her Dolly.

They met in a small town near Naples, Italy. She was on vacation from the states. He had served in the Italian Army, a tank commander brandishing a snappy uniform.

They fell in love, married, came to New York and raised a family.

On Friday, they observed their 65th wedding anniversary, Dolly in her bed at home in Stormville, Freddy in his bed at Vassar Brothers Medical Center, family members whispering the news in the ears of each.

And then on Monday, they were gone.

Mary Acerra, 86, died in her sleep after battling intestinal cancer. Three hours later, Ferdinando Acerra, 89, died at the hospital after a long struggle with bladder cancer.

Their son, Gaetano Acerra, 58, had worried whether one of them would be stricken with "broken-heart syndrome" — the stress-induced cardiomyopathy that can affect a survivor after a loved one's passing.

Not this time.

"She said, 'Let’s go, Freddy,'" Gaetano said.

And so they did.

After marrying in Italy, they settled in Mount Vernon before moving to Yonkers and then to their son's home in Stormville.

Freddy came to New York speaking only Italian. He spent 35 years as a paint foreman at General Motors' North Tarrytown assembly plant. That, too, is gone.

Dolly enjoyed cooking, playing cards and slot machines. Above all came her family.

"They are my best friends," said their 19-year-old granddaughter, Alexis Acerra.

The couple owned a small shop in Yonkers, Jennifer's House of Cards and Gifts, named after a granddaughter.

"It was like the corner barbershop," their son said.

The ladies would come in and chat with Dolly. The Italian men would make a beeline for the lottery machine. There, the paesani would gab about the winning numbers and try to predict the next round.

Whenever Freddy would walk out with a stack of lottery tickets in his pocket, Dolly would complain.

"She'd be yelling at him that we aren’t making money at Lotto with him playing it," Gaetano said.

Freddy loved the opera. Sports? Not so much.

He enjoyed collecting wine. Was he an aficionado?

"He thought he was," his son said.

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They remained together until two months ago, when Freddy went to Vassar Brothers, then to rehabilitation, then back to the hospital for the last time. In addition to her cancer, Dolly suffered from the early stages of Alzheimer's disease.

Now and then, Gaetano would have to remind his mother how ill her husband was. She'd process the information. And then she'd promise her son that at least she wasn't going anywhere.

Gaetano was bringing his mother her favorite oatmeal breakfast when he found her Monday.

Calls went out. Family members began to rally. A trip to Vassar Brothers was planned.

Then the phone rang. It was the hospital.

Now, as families gather for Thanksgiving, the Acerras will be otherwise occupied.

Gaetano said he's received condolences from countless others.

Such a beautiful story, they say. That Mary and Ferdinando Acerra lived — and died — in lockstep, he said, is bringing comfort to many mourners.

But not all.

"I'm hoping," their son said, "to feel that, too."

Follow John Ferro onTwitter: @PoJoEnviro


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